Navigating the (Canadian) Broadcasting Landscape as an Independent and Emerging Producer

(Amen J.) #1

This past year has been super interesting and I feel like I’ve grown ten-fold as a film/web series producer, no matter the outcome of these circumstances. I wanted to share these insights with the rest of you.

After I released The Secret Lives of Public Servants, I reached out to a local broadcasting rep last February, to see if they would be interested in acquiring the episodes for airing on television.

Lesson 1 - She wasn’t or couldn’t, because apparently one of the episodes (The Radical Artist) isn’t family-friendly enough; her programming slot is daytime, so she has to be careful of what is featured on there. Another episode takes place at Comic Con and features Marvel/DC characters. I didn’t have E&O insurance for the series, which is essential for a broadcaster and she didn’t want to risk it.

What was feasible, however, was to transform the concept into a 45-minute version and to submit it to her for funding consideration. I don’t like to do anything half-assed, so this was an enormous challenge. I had to figure out how to thematically tie all potential characters together. I also had to figure out a budget as part of my proposal to her.

Lesson 2- This is broadcaster territory and I had no idea what to do. So I reached out to another more experienced producer, who reviewed my budget, gave me some recommendations on estimating the numbers and then forwarded my information to someone else, with experience in business affairs. This woman was a godsend and I have learned so much from her to date; I highly recommend finding someone with this type of experience to mentor you.

Once I submitted my proposal to the broadcaster I did not hear back for a long time. I still have no explanation for this. No lesson learned, except I guess patience? I truly did not think anything was going to happen and that I should just move on. All that happened was getting peppered with different questions every few weeks, such as including the option to create a web series from the characters featured in the documentary. By this point it was now October, months since I had first submitted my proposal.

Before the holidays in December, I heard back again and this was to add a third character. I had originally submitted a proposal featuring two characters, because I couldn’t figure out a feasible third person to fit in with the theme that was being explored. I submitted a few names for consideration. I will admit, this time I didn’t reach out to the people themselves, because I wasn’t sure if anything was happening with the project and that it was worth bothering or even getting their hopes up.

In the end, the third character was ultimately decided for me and I had to update the proposal again. Just last week, I was offered the funding to create the 45-minute version of Secret Lives. The trouble is, the funding is so low that it covers only about 15% of my original (and reasonable) budget.

Lesson 4 I reached out to my old manager, who works in Acquisitions and is used to negotiating fees with broadcasters and producers, for tips on how to respond to the offer. Never burn bridges and make friends with people in all aspects of the industry, because you never know when you need to knock on their doors.

I figured out a way to cut 20K out of my budget, but even considering tax credits and applying for other funding (which I am not guaranteed to win), I could still end up in debt. Oh and the broadcaster couldn’t budge on her offer, although I was able to ask for some non-exclusive rights, that would help in the long run, selling the project elsewhere.

Frankly the only option left now is to contact other broadcasters who could be a fit and see if they would be open to a second window. I have now contacted three, one whom I already know (and who will likely say no, because they don’t have much in funds).

Lesson 3 It is incredibly flattering and exciting to know there is broadcaster interest out there to do a doc based on my web series, but if the financial model doesn’t make sense, I have no choice but to walk away from the offer. As my business affairs contact said, at the end of the day, I need to be proud of this project, because it’s my name that will be on it.

What I can confidently say is I have learned so much from this exercise, in terms of putting together a proper budget and to understanding how to create a financial model.

(Ian David Diaz) #2

Well done for getting it so far and I would have done the same thing and walked away.

(Herman Wang) #3

As a fellow Canadian, this is very useful information, but at the same time kind of discouraging.

(Amen J.) #4

I know, I hear ya. I think as filmmakers we will have to go through this type of process multiple times, but i think the good news is that the more they know your name, the easier it is to get past through these gatekeepers, especially when they learn over time that they can trust you.

(Herman Wang) #5

I was thinking about it more in terms of nobody seems to have enough money, even at the top levels :slight_smile:

(Amen J.) #6

Hmm, well the money is there, it’s just that it’s an unrealistic amount considering what they are requesting for it (a broadcast hour); the idea is that it is meant as trigger funding…however it still doesn’t make a lot of sense because the subjects they are request for the docs are local-specific. I think there just aren’t a lot of great option when you’re trying to get your feet wet as an emerging filmmaker.

(Ian David Diaz) #7

I wish that were true, well I can’t talk for the US but in the UK the TV industry commissioning editors are rarely there for more than 2 years and when they are replaced you have to start all over again getting through another set of gatekeepers :frowning: